While it is true that many Germans speak at least some English, it is always helpful to know some of the local language. Berlin, in my opinion, is the perfect destination for someone who hashad college level German and wants to gain experience speaking the language. The reason for this, is that Hochdeutsche, the standard, textbook German, is largely taken from the Berlin dialect and thus the German one learns in school is directly applicable to the day to day speech of Berlin. You don't need to worry too much about funky dialects and unverstehbar accents when you're still a beginner. You can actually use the German you've learned on the street and without leaning on your friends.
If you don't speak German and don't want to speak English, I find that most Germans also have at least a passing knowledge of French and usually have some other second language as well. Not only that, but there are a lot of people from all over the world in Berlin for one reason or other and their lingua franca is of course, English.
1. Neighborhood office in Berlin-Charlottenburg
2. DIVAN office around the corner
3. Kiez bicycle shop across the street
Kiez is a somewhat emotionally charged word in Berlin dialect that means your neighborhood, your distinctive small part of the city where you feel at home and people know you in the pubs.
This is a word that does not exist in southern Germany, and in northern Germany it means something else, like the red-light district in Hamburg.
My first photo shows the Kiezbüro (neighborhood office) at Seelingstraße 14 in Berlin-Charlottenburg, where volunteers take on projects like organizing neighborhood festivals, promoting intercultural understanding, improving traffic safety or promoting cultural events.
Around the corner at Nehringstraße 26 is another organization called DIVAN which sounds very much the same but even more intercultural. It would be nice if some local resident of this Kiez could fill me in on what the difference is between these two organizations and whether they cooperate or compete with each other.
There is also a Kiez bicycle shop in the same street (third photo).
We non-Berliners should be a bit careful about using the word Kiez, because it doesn't sound right with a non-Berlin accent, and they tend to get suspicious and think we are trying to talk down to them or sell them something.
I highly recommend first time visitors to Germany to visit http://www.languages4everyone.com/ for important stuff on the language. I'v logged on there and the website proves the best language site to me.
No, no, they could speak German, quite fluently, I am sure.
Most of street vendors and shop assistants didn't knew or knew English very little (like me German - just basic words).
In restaurants, cafes etc. it worked different, depended on place. At least usually there was menu in English and/or someone could speak English at least a little bit.
In/by tourist attractions (museums, buildings) there were info tables in English... sometimes but usually there were some guides, books, leaflets in English available (often paid).
Just one impressive exception on my picture (enlarge). This table with info in 11 languages stood in front of St. Mathew Church (St. Matth?us-Kirche). Do you know which languages are there? OK, from the top:
11. Polish :-)
12. Again German.
What languages is at no. 9? E-mail please if you know.
It's quite helpful if you learn a few words of German before visiting Berlin. Most local people spoke some English though I always tried speaking to them in German first. The three most useful phrases I learned were:
1. Ich verstehe nicht
2. Sprechen Sie Englisch
3. Noch ein Bier bitte
English is the most common second language, and is widely understood and spoken. When speaking to strangers, one should use the formal forms of address (Sie rather than du).
One of my American friend's keeps on asking me how well he would get around with English. Personally, I think that this wont be a problem. English is a mandatory subject at school since forever and I'm quite sure people will be able to understand you, unless you speak at the speed of light *g*
Most people speak enough English so you don't really have to worry about getting around. The Germans like to walk and ride bikes so take advantage of the opportunity and get out and walk around the city!
it´s always nice to have an idea of what people are saying to you and I found an excellent german school in berlin.
i actually booked it through an agency - but they have their own website - so you can book direct. they´ll only speak to you in english if you want to and can arrange all sorts of accommodation. its relatively cheap compared with other places i´ve studied at!!
In most major cities in the former parts of West Germany, English is widely understood, however in Berlin English is less widely spoken then in most other German cities so some knowledge of German is very helpful especially when communicating with those over 35 who come from the East side of Berlin where English was not widely taught prior to re-unification.